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3rd Annual Graduate Student Symposium: Buddhist Ritual, Buddhist Culture

April 13, 2013
1:00 pmto5:00 pm

The Institute of Buddhist Studies’ 3rd Annual Graduate Student Symposium

Generously co-sponsored by the Graduate Theological Union’s Asia Project
and The Numata Foundation

April 13, 2013, 1 pm – 5 pm

We are pleased to announce 3rd Annual Graduate Student Symposium at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. Our theme this year is “Buddhist Ritual, Buddhist Culture.” Buddhist ritual practices are shaped by their location and are affected by the ritual objects. How does the material world determine the ways that Buddhism is practiced? How do Buddhists use ritual objects? In turn, how does Buddhism shape these objects and transform the physical world? What is the impact, for example, on the physical world as a result of religious pilgrimage or tourism? How do Buddhists transform physical objects in the process of ritualization? This symposium will focus on these themes and will consider both historical and contemporary uses of material objects in Buddhist ritual, Buddhism’s impact on cultural materials, and the relationships between Buddhism and sacred objects.

The symposium will feature a keynote address by Prof. Justin McDaniel of the University of Pennsylvania. Prof. McDaniel’s talk is generously supported by the Numata Foundation.

The event will be held on Saturday, April 13, beginning at 1 pm, at the Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley, CA.

This event is free and open to the public. Please visit our Facebook event page to RSVP or drop a note in the comments below.

Keynote Address:

Architects of Buddhist Leisure
Justin McDaniel, University of Pennsylvania

The rise of Asian economies over the 20th and 21st centuries has not only brought market competition and political influence, but also the rise of a “leisure class.” Buddhism, usually described as an austere religion which condemns desire and promotes monasticism and denial, has not been the subject of the history of leisure. There has been little investigation of Buddhist pleasures or pastimes. However, Buddhist leisure activities, Buddhist tourism, and Buddhist material products are common parts of Asian culture. Indeed, some of the first tourist books and souvenir shops in Asia were marketed and owned by practicing Buddhists in Bangkok, Kyoto, and Singapore. Novels and coffee-table books about Buddhist tourists and pleasure-seekers have been popular in Thai, Chinese, and Japanese history. Buddhist monasteries across Asia are sites of playgrounds, sports-fields, and shopping bazaars. Over the past seventy years, Buddhist comic books, films, and soap-operas have flourished on Asian airwaves. Indeed, many of the ways Buddhist children first learn about their religion is not in the strict confines of a monastic training center, but through Buddhist leisure activities like singing songs, family trips, martial arts camps, and beauty contests.  These creative religious improvisations and public culture of Buddhism in Asia is often built on the idea that Buddhist practice and leisure activities go hand-in-hand.

This short talk focuses on the work of three architects of Buddhist public and leisure spaces in Nepal, Singapore, and Thailand and is designed to start a discussion about the very idea of Buddhist leisure space in modern Asia.

Justin McDaniel studies ghosts and manuscripts in Asia. After living and researching in South and Southeast Asia for many years as a translator, archivist, amulet collector, volunteer teacher, and Buddhist monk. He returned to the States and received his PhD from Harvard University’s Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies in 2003. His research foci include Lao, Thai, Pali and Sanskrit literature, Southeast Asian Buddhism, Japanese Buddhist architecture, ritual studies, manuscript studies, asceticism, the undead, and general phantasmagoria. His first book is on the history of Buddhist monastic education in Laos and Thailand, Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008). It won the Benda Prize from the Association of Asian Studies for the best first book in Southeast Asian Studies. His second book, The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011) is a study on material culture and ritual in Thai Buddhism. His recent publications appear in the Bulletin l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient (Études thématiques), Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Aséanie, Journal of Religion and Film, Material Religion, Manusya, Journal of Burma Studies, and the Journal of the Siam Society, as well as contributions to collected articles on Buddhism and Modernity, Pali literature, Palm-leaf Manuscript research, and liturgical studies. He is the co-editor of the journals Buddhism Compass and Journal of Lao Studies, and is the former Chair of the Southeast Asian Studies Council and the Thailand, Laos, Cambodia Studies Group of the Association of Asian Studies. He has won several teaching and advising awards. In collaboration with colleagues at Penn, UC Riverside, and in Thailand, he has designed two websites: The Thai Digital Monastery Project ( and the Thai, Lao, Cambodia Studies Portal ( His present project looks at the advent of Buddhist leisure (parks, museums, carnivals, film, comics, bird-watching, and collecting stuff) in Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Laos. In 2012 he was named a Guggenheim Fellow and is the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Schedule of Events:

1:00pm: Welcome
Scott Mitchell, Institute of Buddhist Studies
Moses Penumaka, Graduate Theological Union Asia Project

1:15pm: Presentation of Graduate Student Work, part 1

Ryan Anningson; Wilfrid Laurier University-University of Waterloo
“’There Hang the Jewels:’ The Motif of Jewels in Buddhist Narratives”

Matthew Milligan; The University of Texas-Austin
“Material Evidence for Donation as Ritual in the Epigraphic Habit of Early Indian Buddhists”


2:00pm: Presentation of Graduate Student Work, part 2

Ying Chien Chen (Rev. Jian Ji); The Institute of Buddhist Studies
“DDM Ash Burial Ceremony – How Buddhism Influences Chinese Cremation Culture”

Tsun Nyen Yong (Rev. You Min); The Institute of Buddhist Studies
“Memorial Tablets in Contemporary Chinese Buddhist Ritual”

Aaron Proffitt; The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
“Dōhan’s 道範 (1178-1252) Himitsu nenbutsu shō 秘密念仏抄 and Tantric Pure Land in Medieval Japanese Buddhism”

Discussion and Questions

4:00pm: Keynote Address: Architects of Buddhist Leisure

Dr. Justin McDaniel; Associate Professor, Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania

A light reception will follow.

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